I seem to complain a lot, or so some, okay, many people say. I believe that I am just stating facts and sometimes facts can be unpleasant but to assuage those who complain about my complaining, I’m going to write about things I like.
Things I like about Quebec City, that is, where the wife and I recently spent a week.
First off, I like that going to Quebec City is like going to Europe without having to cross the ocean. All that needs to be crossed is the border. In Quebec City, one will find oneself wandering narrow cobblestone streets among buildings that are hundreds of years old and the national language is French.
I like that there’s a large boardwalk running alongside the St. Lawrence River that one can stroll along or sit upon a bench or inside a gazebo.
I like that beets are served with most meals.
I like that waitstaff will not rush up to you when you’ve cleared your plate and ask “Can I get that out of your way?”
Only in Canada…
I’ve never understood that request. It’s not like I was going to use that space to play solitaire or balance my checkbook. The plate was in front of me while I was eating from it so it obviously wasn’t in my way then so why should it be in my way now? Besides, my wife is often still eating. No matter how slowly I try to eat, my wife can always eat slower. You’d think that…
But, there I go. Complaining again. I must try to stay positive.
One day we took a bus out of town to see Montmorency Falls. The falls are 30 meters higher than Niagara Falls but not as wide. I like that the area around these falls is not built up like Niagara. No souvenir shops or wax museums.There’s a bridge, some stairs (400 steps worth) and a cable car where one can pay a fee and ride back up to the top. Other than that it’s forest.
We had to walk a ways back to the highway to find a snack shop. I like the fact that I can call the place a ‘snack shop’. That’s exactly what it was. I also like that the people working there wore white T-shirts and white paper hats.
I like that Mars candy bars are available. They are, of course, maple flavored.
I like the way that the cost of something will be rounded off so that pennies don’t have to change hands.
I like that the B&B where we stayed did not use fabric softener on their bed linens. In recent years I’ve discovered that I’m allergic to fabric softener so I try to remember to bring a pillow case along with me when I travel so I don’t wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air.
In fact, I liked the B&B where we stayed. It was a family home built in the 1800s that was recently transformed into a B&B by the son who grew up there. Breakfasts were fantastic. Freshly baked croissants, jams, cold cuts, cheese, hard boiled eggs, yogurt with blackberries, freshly brewed coffee and tea were all there for consuming. As a bonus, an interesting array of people joined us at the table.
I generally abhor contact with people but there was a group of like-minded folks staying at this place. They came from all over–Poland, Milan, London, Cuba and even New Hampshire. We had many an entertaining and lively conversation over the lovely morning spread.
So, I liked that.
See, it doesn’t take much to please me. I also like the fact that we visited Quebec City in May. I couldn’t imagine being there in the summertime. Oy, the crowds.
I would hate it.
Editor’s Note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Mr. Isolation…
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I’ve lived on my block for over 30 years and I don’t know my neighbors.
Okay, that’s a bit of an overstatement but not by much. I know the people who live next door to me. We’re friendly, we speak and we like one another but not to the extent of climbing over that six foot fence in the back yard and sharing a can of PBR or a glass of chardonnay.
Which, as far as I’m concerned, is how it should be.
I used to know some of the neighbors, the parents of the kids that my kids played with but my kids are grown and gone now and those neighbors are gone too. There are familiar faces across the street and when we have to, we will acknowledge each others’ existence and wave. But we don’t make a habit of it.
I noticed that some of the menfolk in the neighborhood knew each other and kind of hung around together. I came across a few of them exiting a tavern as a group one summer day. I discovered that what drew them together was that they all had dogs and would meet up while taking their canine companions for walks.
In a brief moment of communal contemplation, I considered getting one of those novelty collar and leash things, where it looks like you’re walking an invisible dog. I thought that might be a way to be one of the boys and congregate with the guys in the alley without having to actually have a pet. But then I thought better of it. They might think I was a bit too strange.
Especially if I pulled a baggie out of my pocket to pick up my invisible dog’s invisible poop, which I would have done.
On the block I grew up on, in an entirely different day and age, many of the neighbors not only knew one another, they did things together. There would be parties at one another’s house. On the fourth of July, garages would be opened up, allowing entry to the food and drink stored within. Folding chairs would line the alley as we watched the fireworks from nearby Goss Field light up the sky and we kids ran around, unattended, with sparklers. There would even be the occasional organized outing where a caravan of neighbors would pack up their children and head out to Cedar Lake in Indiana!
Do neighbors do that kind of stuff any more?
There are such things as block parties here in the city. There have even been a few on my block but it’s been several years since that has happened. At such venues, I would hesitantly make conversation with a few neighbors, asking them when they moved in and be astounded when they told me they’ve lived there for twenty years. They were probably just as astounded when I told them how long I’d resided there. We’d interact for an afternoon and then never speak to one another again.
As John Prine sings in one of his songs, “All together we’re all alone”.
My neighbors and I are fortunate that we live in a neighborhood that is free from daily mayhem. Crime occurs but it’s not like some neighborhoods where it’s more akin to a war zone. We go about our lives in a neighborly fashion being good neighbors without having to actually act neighborly to one another.
And, to quote from another song, this one by The Dave Clark Five, “I like it like that”.
While Jon’s off fishing, we’ll run some of his greatest hits from church…
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For most holidays until I turned 20, I went to my great-grandparent’s house (the parents of my mother’s mother). They were both born in the same small village of Hyzne, Poland, a hundred miles east of Krakow, and they immigrated to Back of the Yards in Chicago around 1914.
They had seven children; some of whom had seven kids of their own, so their gatherings would get pretty crowded.
When we arrived, one of my great uncles would usually crack the door open with a bottle of Vodka or Canadian Mist Whiskey in hand, and make my dad do a triple shot before we could enter.
We’d step into the small front room, filled with people smoking, drinking and eating sliced Polish sausage while watching sports on TV.
Occasionally there were heated arguments, and once I saw a fistfight erupt where someone was shoved onto the glass coffee table, shattering it to pieces.
“Dupa Yash” which means jackass was one of the first Polish words I ever learned, when I was probably six years old. Along with “piwo” for beer, “dziekuje” for thank you, and of course all the Polish foods.
The food was always homemade by my great-grandmother and her three daughters: several types of hand-stuffed pierogi (dumplings), golabki (cabbage rolls), white and red beet borscht, kapusta (stewed cabbage) and kolache (cookies).
There wasn’t much for kids to do there. Sometimes we’d play pool in the basement, while a subset of the adults got rowdy drinking and playing Pinochle.
There were usually one or two illegal Poles living in the basement, their bedrooms divided by colorful patterned sheets hanging from thick black wire running along the ceiling. They would work for a few years making good money and send it back to Poland.
In the 1980s, my great-grandfather’s nephew, Marek, lived down there while he worked as an auto mechanic.
“When Marek goes back to Poland,” my Uncle Frank told me many times, “He’s going to live like a king because everyone over dere is dirt poor, ya see?”
15 years later when I finished graduate school and backpacked around Europe before starting my first job, I visited Marek in Hyzne.
While there, I learned that when he had returned to Poland, he had enough money to build a new house (with manual labor help from neighbors), replacing the mud and straw hut that he grew up in.
For a couple of days we took it easy, sitting in their yard with neighbors who were distant relatives of mine, grilling kielbasa over an open fire, drinking beer, doing shots, playing the accordion and singing, and riding around the rolling hills on a tractor harvesting wheat.
Then Marek told me he had taken a week of vacation to show me around. We took a road trip with his family, visiting historic towns and castles, hiking Lake Morski Oko in the Tatra Mountains and seeing Zakopane where my mother’s father’s family is from.
About 10 years after my visit, Marek’s daughter came to Chicago for a few months to work as a cleaning lady. Her experience was much different than her father’s.
It was some program where she worked for a bithcy and demanding Polish boss, had to live in pre-arranged housing in the suburbs, eat their food and use their transportation to and from the jobs.
I wish I could have helped her out and shown her around, but I was living out of state for work.
When my great-grandparents passed away, no one picked up on hosting the holidays, everyone went their own way and formed their own traditions.
Things just aren’t what they used to be.
But I would welcome my relatives to stay in my basement for a while anyway, and I plan to make sure my kids experience the smell of kielbasa being grilled in the Polish countryside.
Editor’s Note: Grabowski’s last post for The Third City was Bedtime Stalling…
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Painted ornately in red nail polish on a pale blue wall were letters spelling out “WHY NOT?” Tacked to the wall below the glistening question was a well-worn black and white poster of French New Wave actor Jean-Paul Belmondo. He was in a thoughtful pose with a cigarette in his hand while his thumb caressed his lower lip. The top left corner of the poster was torn and a yellowed piece of Scotch Tape clumsily held it together.
Against the wall just to the right of Belmondo was a white oak dresser with attached mirror. The mirror was fringed with black angora. Several faded Kodachrome snapshots of beach scenes were tucked into the edging where mirror met wood.
The dresser top was covered with white linen that was embroidered with small clusters of purple grapes. Atop this were an assortment of perfume bottles, a hairbrush that had not been cleaned for quite a while, some wadded up tissues, a few tubes of lipstick, an empty fingernail polish bottle lying on its side, half a pack of Gauloises cigarettes and a copper ashtray with the Eiffel Tower embossed into the bottom of it that held several lipstick-stained cigarette butts. Next to it laid a .45 automatic pistol.
Across from the dresser was a bed, unmade, and sitting on the edge of it was a middle-aged woman. Her once-young svelte body now showed the wear and tear of aging. She wasn’t obese but rolls of flesh clung to the cream-colored full slip she was clad in. Her cornflake colored hair hung down to her shoulders. Across her forehead, untrimmed bangs brushed against her thinning dark brown eyebrows. Rivulets of damp mascara streaked her cheeks.
Charm is the ability to make others forget that you look as you do…
She sighed deeply, rubbed a finger under her snively nose and then reached over to the dresser and grabbed the Gauloises. Sniffling, she withdrew one from the pack. She tossed the pack back onto the dresser as she inserted the cigarette into the corner of her mouth. Staring blankly into space, her hand searched through the crumpled sheets on her bed until her fingers encircled a book of matches.
She brought the matchbook up to her face, tore off one of the red-tipped pieces of cardboard and struck it. It didn’t ignite. She struck it again and still failed to make any fire. Exasperated, she dropped her hands and fixed her gaze upon the Belmondo poster. She half-smiled and spoke in a weary voice.
“When a woman can’t strike a match, it means she’s afraid.”
She tried a third time and the sharp scent of sulphur filled her nose. She touched the flame to her Gauloise and inhaled deeply. She leaned back and exhaled a bluish white cloud into the air. As the cloud dissipated she continued staring up at the ceiling in a prolonged pause. A half-smile crossed her lips again and she closed her eyes as she spoke.
“Being afraid is the worst sin there is.”
She sat upright, crossed her legs, rested her hand holding the burning cigarette upon her knee and looked over at the gun.
Editor’s Note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Fellini & Fields…
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Chicago is baseball city.
Two teams in first place and we’re not looking back, baby. See you in the Series.
Carl Sandburg once wrote, in a poem called Chicago, “here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities.”
Tall bold slugger? He was talking about baseball, pretty sure.
In Chicago, the streets are paved with gold-glovers.
It’s where you can pick yourself up by the stirrups, and make something of yourself. Maybe a rangy outfielder, or a lefty specialist.
Here, we’re living the American Dream. And we’re taking it in with a beer and a hot dog.
We should have anticipated the onset of this golden age of Chicago baseball. After all, we were due.
A baseball tradition marked by hundreds of years of “what might have been” and “never had a chance” seasons, strangely interrupted by a White Sox championship in 2005.
The baseball gods were saving it all up for right now. To grant us this enchanted season. Two teams in first place.
We are truly blessed.
It’s like Abraham, when he said unto Peter, “Let’s play two.”
Sorry, I read the box scores, not the Bible.
Don’t try to tell us that this isn’t destiny. Or at least mathematical retribution.
Baseball is a game of statistics, and values that even out over time. It’s called “regression toward the mean.”
After a hundred years of bad luck, we’re regressing like a motherfucker.
And now, this city will become legendary in baseball lore.
We’ve seen this before…
They’ll make a second Field of Dreams here.
A community gardener will plow over his raised garden beds to build a baseball field. Where ghosts of the billy goat, Ernie Broglio, and Leon Durham’s first baseman’s mitt will play pick-up with tight-fisted Charlie Comiskey, several unfortunate uniform decisions, and an army of sub-par third basemen not named Crede or Ventura.
While these demons are being exorcised, the teams on the North and South Sides will duel it out in back-to-back-to-back-to-back Word Series.
“Hey! Is this heaven?” people will ask.
“No, it’s Chicago.”
All signs point to this.
Thirty games into the season, it now seems a cosmic inevitability.
What could possibly go wrong?
Editor’s Note: Chris’ last post for The Third City was Waiting on a Cubs Post…
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I had made the acquaintance of Margie. She’s an artist whose main mediums are watercolor and graphite. Her subjects are varied but she specializes in sports paintings. She is also a life-long and rabid Cubs fan.
After an introductory lunch with her, I returned home and thought of something she might appreciate.
In 2008, Greg Simetz and I wrote, illustrated and self-published a book that was a humorously absurd deconstruction of Chicago Cubs history in which we explained how the hapless losers had not, as reality dictated, not won a World Series for one hundred years but, instead, had been World Series champions every single season since 1908.
Fantasy Baseball at it’s fantasiest.
Anyway, as I said, I thought she might get a kick out of it. I knew I still had some copies of it somewhere so I undertook a search for them. I needed a soundtrack to accompany my quest so I inserted a CD into my ancient boombox. The CD was a collection of soundtracks from Fellini films composed by Nino Rota. An Italian-fueled circus-like atmosphere filled the air, which proved to be quite apt.
Go, Cubs, go…
I had a hunch that some books were in a cardboard box that sat under piles of papers and magazines in the corner of my studio. I knelt down and gathered up the disparate materials, a small stack at a time and held them against my chest like a schoolgirl with an armload of books.
Soon, these mini-stacks became a bit cumbersome so I had to hug them tighter and use my chin to hold them into place as best I could. As I continued to add to the stacks of papers and magazines they began to slip and slide from my grasp. In order to avoid an avalanche of newsprint spilling over the floor, I struggled to keep the gathered documents from escaping by gripping them tighter by bending over more and using every one of my chins to keep things in place.
At the same time I was doing this, I used my free hand to open the flaps atop the box. This is when it became a true W.C. Fields-type situation. While keeping a trepidatious hold on the slipping and sliding papers with one hand and chin, I’d flip one flap open but as soon as I let go of that flap to flip another flap open, that first flap would flip closed again. This round-robin approach of flipping and falling flaps and attempted corralling of papers, now with a knee added to the mix, went on and on and on as Nino Rota’s Fellini-tinged music laughed at me.
I was laughing at me too.
Finally, in an acrobatic pose that would be the envy of any Cirque du Soleil performer I was able to get the top of the box open without dropping a single piece of paper or magazine. Flushed with the success of getting all four flaps flipped open I fixed my bifocaled peepers on the interior. There were no books in there.
The gods seem to always like having a hearty har-de-har-har at my expense.
However, the carton was not entirely empty. Residing inside was a small white box. When I retrieved it and espied its contents, I remembered where it came from. It had been given to me by a little Serbian neighbor boy and it contained baseball cards of Cubs players. I would insert one into every copy of our book that we sold.
I put down the stacks of papers and ‘zines and thumbed through the cards, seeing old familiar faces as well as those whose names I never heard of, posing with bats, balls and gloves in various types of Cubs uniforms. Time passed, Nino Rota’s compositions came to an end and I put the conglomeration back to the way it was so that someday I could repeat this routine.
I never did get a copy of the book over to Margie.
Editor’s Note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Springtime for Broderick…
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